Choosing a new business IT system

I know of this not-for-profit organisation that is seeking to find the ideal solution for all of their IT needs. As with most organisations, wish lists are long, and in this case, the pockets are very shallow.

Now there is a certain amount of history, and politics (all organisations have this), so I’ll just focus on the facts at hand. A new system is sought, the budget is limited, there is no IT manager for the organisation, there are no detailed user or functional requirements for product comparision. So what do you do.

I’m not going to be involved in the process in any way, so what advice in guidelines could I give that would enable the parties to at least consider. Remembering that the Organisation has no IT manager, or internal experienced IT professional to advise. (This is of course the most dangerous position, the worst business critical IT decisions are made by non-IT people simply because they are putting the business needs first (that’s their job), but if your organisation is totally dependent on IT, or nearly totally dependent on IT (it could survive a short time, but you would need a lot more staff) how can the best views be presented without an IT expert, even totally independent from the organisation.)

Here is the quick guide.

1. There is an existing operational (but not fully functionality, obviously the reason for moving) system. What are the top 10 points of functionality that you business currently uses and gains most benefit from (also considering cost savings in money and staff resources).

2. What are the top 10 points of functionality the current system does not currently fully provide (obviously for moving). Be specific.

3. Given the case of globalisation, overseas products will be considered. The following are the Internationalisation (I18N) points the system must have (like the permenent members of the UN Security Council), if one fails the product fails regardless.

  1. Must be able to handle input and display of dates in local format
  2. Must operate in the Timezone of the business (for off-site managed options)
  3. Must provide correct currency support
  4. Must provide english (if the product is developed in a foreign langauge)
  5. Must provide correct Financial Year management
  6. Must provide correct local taxation requirements
  7. Must provide local integrations, for example to payment gateways, shipping providers etc.

So what you have from here are 7 must have points (one fails, end of evaluation), and then 20 points next on the list which would form a percentage of 100% if all 20 are met. Obviously using the existing system as a guide, the percentage would be 50%, 10 points it has, and 10 it doesn’t have. Simple.

What is an acceptable fit for the organisation, 50%, 75%, 80%. If you were purchasing an off the shelf product, I would think 80% would be a suitable go-live indicator. Not idea, but sufficient for survival. Doing this evaluation up front is a necessary step of comparing apples with apples.
No product will make 100%, the next part of the evaluation after getting these initial percentages is to look at the cost (in dollars and time) that it would take to move each product to the minimum acceptable fit, in my example 80%. Of course you may want to consider the cost to move to 95%.

Lastly, your organisation must consult in this case an external IT party. Somebody/some organisation which will look at the feature requirements (which are very limited), cost/benefit analysis and provide a best recommendation for the business, a decision made by mind, and not a decision made by heart.

So in summary.

  • Determine your minumum requirements
  • Determine the minimum acceptable percentage fit
  • Determine the cost (time and money) for each product to meet minimum acceptable percentage
  • Consult an independent person/body that can provide professional advice

Only at this point can you make a better informed decision. Will it be the right decision? Well that’s another question.